Pubdate: Sat, 18 Aug 2001
Source: Columbia Daily Tribune (MO)
Copyright: 2001 Columbia Daily Tribune
Author: Henry J. Waters III
Note: Henry J. Waters III, Publisher, Columbia Daily Tribune


Drug War And Crime Wave

We've all noticed a surge in local crime lately. Almost every day we see 
another story about a strong-arm robbery, a forced entry or a local bank 
robbery. Virtually all of these events are drug-related.

The other day the MUSTANG law enforcement task force completed a successful 
undercover operation with a score of arrests, overcrowding the Boone County 
Jail and causing inmates to be moved to out-of-town lockups at great expense.

The drug war remains in full swing with well-known results, lots of crime 
and overcrowded prisons. Not only do we spend billions on law enforcement; 
the cost to society in other ways amounts to many more billions. Every one 
of us is in more danger from people who need money for high-priced 
black-market drugs. Every time MUSTANG or some other law agency makes a 
drug bust, the black market is strengthened. Prices rise, and the incentive 
for crime goes up.

The war on drugs might be worthwhile if it actually worked. But as we all 
know, narcotic drugs are as easy to get as ever, and at the same time the 
black market is sustained. It's the worst of both worlds.

You would think that after decades of this failure, people would get fed 
up. But most of us are not yet able to hold justifiable fear over the 
effects of drugs without embracing irrational ideas about law enforcement. 
If we applied our twisted drug thinking to other aspects of life, we'd 
still have alcohol prohibition and would impose similar rules for tobacco 
use, both of which are abused with more ill effect than drugs. We don't 
entertain such thoughts because we know prohibition does not work in our 
relatively free society.

The same downside exists with drugs, but we seem to tolerate prohibition 
because relatively few people use the banned products. The resulting crime 
wave is much smaller than we saw with liquor prohibition or would see with 
similar bans on tobacco products. The cost of the drug war is billions, but 
in our affluent society we tolerate the expense in order to buy a false 
sense of comfort from "doing something."

If drug-trafficking were legal, the black market, its insidious pusher 
system and its crime would be gone. Billions in tax revenue would be 
created. The health threat from drugs would be diminished. Jail crowding 
would ease, saving another billion or so, and police agencies would be 
relieved of their most unproductive enterprise. We could keep a much better 
handle on distribution, use and abuse of these products. We could divert a 
fraction of money now spent to prime-time education, probably with better 
effect against use.

We can't stop drug use any more than we can stop use of alcoholic beverages 
and tobacco products. We are bogged down in a futile and counterproductive 
attempt to do the impossible.

Let's remember police agencies are not the culprits here. They enforce laws 
passed by legislatures, and they have a great money incentive to conduct 
the war. After all, they receive billions of dollars for the effort. 
Odd-thinking legislatures bolstered by public acceptance will appropriate 
vast sums for drug enforcement even when budgets are tight. Law agencies 
long ago learned that the best way to get budget enhancement is with 
drug-fighting funds, much of which seeps into other parts of their budgets. 
Even though most police officers surely know the futility of the drug war, 
none will say publicly what many - or most? - know privately about the 
usefulness and wisdom of current drug laws.

It's hard to separate thoughts about the drug war from our general 
antipathy toward crime and criminals. Drug prohibition laws are bad policy 
in a way other laws against crime are not. We repealed liquor prohibition 
when gang warfare on the streets and common flouting behind closed doors 
got bad enough. The same thing happens today with drugs, but we tolerate it.
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